In a love letter to toxic masculinity, this movie marks the feature film debut of writer/director Emerald Fennell, best known for her acting roles in the BBC shows, Call The Midwife and The Crown, although she has written for Killing Eve as well. Welcome to America!
Carey Mulligan (bearing a striking resemblance to a young Kim Cattrall) plays Cassie Thomas, a 30-year-old woman still living at home with her patient and loving parents (Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge). However, this med school drop-out has almost a superhero secret. By day she’s a boring counter girl working at a coffee shop, but at night she dons a variety of different clothes and wigs and trolls bars to hunt. What does she hunt for? Aye, there’s the rub! According to her little blue book of victims (and she’s got A LOT!!), she lures lecherous and lascivious guys to take her to their place where she “teaches them a lesson”.
Why does she do this? It’s all part of her on-going revenge mandate she has for her late BFF, Nina, who was raped in college. One day she meets-cute a young, quirky pediatric surgeon named Ryan (Bo Burnham) and there’s definitely an attraction. Ryan tells Cassie of their old school pals who are back in town, Madison (Alison Brie) and soon-to-be-married Al Monroe (Chris Lowell) who raped Nina. Cassie springs into action at this information and, while attempting to date nice-guy Ryan, she skillfully exacts her revenge on the people that thought Nina wasn’t raped (Madison, the college dean, a trial lawyer), and finally, Al Monroe.
But late into the third act she finds out some devastating news that twists and turns this movie in a new direction, one with a “I didn’t see THAT coming” results. Tinged with black humor, screenwriter and director Fennell reminds me alot of Hitchcock and Wes Anderson in both writing and filmmaking. Many of the shots are straight-on static shots, framed like a picture or mosaic, while others are low-angle clever sinister shots. The script is simple, clean, refreshing, and elegant, however I did have a problem with the ending which, although was a nice twist and all, had too many glaring plot holes to have it make any sense.
Another refreshing thing about this film is, it didn’t set you up for the same ‘ol, same ‘ol revenge trope you’ve seen before, like in Kill Bill or I Spit On Your Grave. Watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean. Mulligan’s Cassie, while a stone-cold sociopath, has a heart and soul to her, and not some two-dimensional crazy caricature. She carries the movie with a deep emotional center to her, while being psychologically damaged; a stunning performance. Burnham is the guy-next-door every girl wants and plays it wonderfully, but it’s all the cameos in this movie that’s half the fun.
You have a plethora of top B-stars that pop-up here and there that, although they’re not on screen for that long, give it their very best and you wish you could see more of them. Alfred Molina is heart-breaking as a disgraced trail lawyer, Molly Shannon as Nina’s mom, Alison Brie gives a gut-punching dramatic turn, Connie Britton agonizes as the school dean, Laverne Cox as Cassie’s sassy boss, sleazy Christoper Mintz-Plasse for some comic relief, Jennifer Coolidge underplays her role as a worried mom, and look for Fennell herself as a YouTube makeup artist.
A victim of the virus, this movie was released back on Christmas day, but many theaters were closed in different cities. It’s now being released on VOD on Amazon Prime, FandangoNow, and other streaming platforms. For $20, it’s worth the money and your time.
Hard Candy (2005)
An old Klingon proverb goes, Revenge is a dish best served cold, and in this movie, it’s freezing! Screenwriter Brian Nelson (Rupture, 30 Days of Night) got the idea after reading about gangs of young Japanese girls who drugged men and then tortured them in motel rooms! Eeeessh!!
Similar to revenge porn like Extremities, Swimming With Sharks, or Kill Bill, we start with an online chatroom between a curious 14-year-old teenager and a 32-year-old professional photographer. Looks like these two are gonna meet up at a local coffeehouse and see what happens. What does happen is flirtatious and sexually-teasing teenager Hayley Stark (Ellen Page) agreeing to go home with nudge-nudge, wink-wink Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) for some drinks and whatever. But after a few screwdrivers and some naughty banter, something unexpected occurs. She roofies him!
Tied up and coming out of a drugged haze, Jeff discovers that dear, sweet, innocent Hayley is really a conniving, calculating, evil, twisted, and psychotic kid that somehow firmly believes that Jeff is really a pedophile, rapist, and murderer! Problem is, she has no proof and Jeff is vehemently denying her allegations. After tearing apart his home and combing through his computer, she stumbles on a hidden photo of a girl that was reported missing. But is that evidence or coincidence? After Jeff’s attempt at escaping, Hayley decides that there’s only one thing she can do to a pedophile and rapist, and that’s… castration! Gulp!!
In one of the movie’s most squirming, harrowing scenes (although nothing is seen, only implied), Hayley performs table-top surgery on a tied-down Jeff. OMG! And just when you think it can’t get any nail-biting, the film cranks it up to 11 as Jeff escapes again and again, only to be caught and manhandled by this pint-sized Marquis DeSade. All this time she insists he’s a dangerous criminal and Jeff going out of mind with madness in trying to convince her otherwise. With all the twists and turns, the ending is a smack upside the head, leaving you feeling numb.
Brian Nelson, mostly a TV series writer (Jag, So Weird, 11-22-63), has only written a couple of forgotten screenplays, but this one is a standout since this film only has two actors trading off dialogue for about 98% of the movie, which is a very difficult thing to do and still hold your attention. First, I gotta commend Nelson for his expert trading of sarcasm and homicidal wit between the two main leads. You’re kept in the dark until the very end about who is really who, and the story never dissolves into some sort of B-exploitation Roger Corman type of film. The delivery is sharp, tight, and has a bite to it.
Director David Slade is very much like Nelson, directing mostly TV shows & music videos and having only a few movies under his belt (Twilight: Eclipse). But his creativity is evident with a steady hand, swift camera moves, and a penchant for close-ups of eyeballs. Go figure. And I would be remiss if I didn’t applaud his decision for NOT showing the bloody castration surgery. Representing all men, I thank you. However, the real fun of this movie is watching the outstanding acting talents of Page and Wilson.
Page, looking like a child (she was 17 at the time), is remarkable. She is both mesmerizing and terrifying in her performance as the mentally unhinged teen, while Wilson tears your heart out as the victim that you have such empathy for, but should you? He keeps you on the fence until the bitter end and even after. And for an added bonus, Sandra Oh has a cameo as a next-door neighbor who gets a marvelous little scene with Page that is the cherry on the sundae.